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Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
mini location map2015-07-27
40 by photographer avatarrwstorm
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Chiricahua Mountains, AZ 
Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
Car Camping avatar Jul 27 2015
Car Camping
Car Camping
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There were two reasons I made this trip to the Chiricahua Mountains. One was to actually camp at Rustler Park now that the campground is once again open and the other was to scope out alternate Mexican restaurants in Willcox, now that Salsa Fiesta is out of business.

The Horseshoe II Fire burned through the area with fury back in 2011, and the campground had been closed for about 3 years for major renovation. It finally reopened in September 2014. (It closes for the winter on October 31 and reopens April 1). The campground still is configured in about the same way as before, but the loss of trees has made it much more exposed, which is why covered shelters were put in place at most sites. Certainly not as charming as before the fire, but still a good place for staging hikes, escaping the heat, etc at about 8500 feet.

When I arrived Monday afternoon I was the only one there (several State Wildland Fire Trucks were driving out as I drove in from Onion Saddle). I took my time sizing up the campground and looking for a site with a decent tent spot. Almost none to be had! :o

I ended up at what is the group site #12, because it was the only one with a large enough flat area I could use.
That particular site was the scene of a memorably chaotic campout back in 2008! [ photoset ] I'm sure Shawn will smile when he thinks of that one! :lol:

Yes, I have some good memories of camping here over the years! :) Another memorable one was when a bear drove me out back in 1990. :sweat: I was set up in one of my favorite spots, site 11, overlooking the little meadow. It was about 1030 in the evening and I was winding down, enjoying some brews, and shining my flashlight out to catch the deer's eyes glowing. All of a sudden I heard something getting into my garbage bag. First thought was skunk, but when I shined the light it was a bear. Yelled at him and off he went. Moved the stuff on top of the picnic table, and yup, he returned, bit a hole in my water jug and ran off with a box of zip lock bags. He was being more mischievous than threatening, so it was game on! :lol: Moved everything inside my truck, finished my beer, and headed for the tent. Just got into the sleeping bag when I heard the sound of breaking plastic. :o He's starting to break into the truck, so out of the tent I run in my undies, without my glasses yelling at him, and off he goes again! :lol: At this point I realize I had to leave if I wanted any sleep. :tt: So, I put the tent in the truck, told Mr. Bear that he had won, and headed down the mountain. :sl: Set up down by the turnoff to Methodist Camp and got a little sleep anyway. Camping at Sunny Flat about a month later I asked the ranger about the problem bear at Rustler. She said it had to be relocated over in the Huachucas. (Oh great, another area I go to camp). Most likely didn't live long.

Anyway, the weather was quiet during the evening with no storms, so I enjoyed relaxing and shining my light out to catch that green glow of deer eyes (saw one) just like old times (minus the bear, but not the beer). :) One other group drove in and camped, but for the most part it doesn't look like many people are camping here these days.

Woke up to lightning and distant thunder to the southeast at 0230. Went out to pee and check the sky, but looked like the storm was pretty far off and stars were bright. As I was walking down the road I heard something move and my light caught a yellow glow of eyes not too far away. Wasn't a deer and lower to the ground so I think probably a lion. Back to the tent and slept good the rest of the night. Awoke to a beautiful calm morning and was happy storms didn't roll in and get the gear wet. :D

Before my first coffee, I headed out to get some photos and perhaps catch the sunrise, but views to the east at the campground are not good. I went up the gated road to the helipad area thinking I might get a view out. Too many trees to see much, but as I was on a hillside I glanced down and there was a sizable bear looking at me about 100 yards away. I had the time to get a good photo since it didn't move for 7 or 8 seconds, but you know how it goes: first thought is bear and the fear factor kicks in and you aren't thinking about the camera! He moved off a ways and I started back up the hill to the road. I looked back and he was just staring at me through the trees, so I got a lousy out of focus shot. Typical. Once you have your senses heightened and your guard up, every burned stump starts looking like a bear! :sweat: Headed back to camp for my coffee. Glad he didn't follow me. ;)

Initially I was going to do a little hiking, but got lazy and just hung out around camp all morning. A group of workers came walking up the road and do some more chores around the campground. Then the Border Patrol vehicles went up toward Long Park. Next was two Cochise County Search and Rescue vehicles. They went up the road to the helipad and were gone for about an hour before coming back out. They swung through the campground and I flagged one down to find out what was happening. Turns out they were doing some follow up searching for a person who went missing from the campground in June (google Janet Castrejon). Had the cadaver sniffing dogs out. Strange case. I had a nice long conversation with the officer, and since he had been in the area a long time, I asked him if he remembered the disappearance of Paul Fugate, who worked at Chiricahua NM, back in 1980. He sure did. That is another of the unsolved ones. Funny, I was talking about that disappearance with with a Forest Service ranger who has been with the Coronado since 1978 just a week earlier when I was up at Carr Canyon.

Finished loading the gear into the truck by about 1100 and decided to head up to Long Park before heading down the mountain. Storms were getting serious as I headed toward Willcox. It was obvious this would be a good monsoon action day! On the way up Monday I stopped at one of the two restaurants I decided to check out based on Trip Advisor and Yelp posts. This was Isabel's South of the Border. Nice setting, but the wait staff was pretty scatter-brained with my order and the food was very bland and uninspired. Fire it up, spice it up please, just don't have it be DOA! So, I wasn't impressed. Tuesday on the way out I hit La Unica Tortilleria y Tacqueria (which is rated #1 on both websites). Ding, ding, ding...we have a winner! I don't care if the table tops are sticky, the food is very good. And thank goodness spiced right. Recommended. :)

Started getting into serious downpours west of Benson as I rolled home. Wow, the lightning was the most intense of the summer!! I got through the first wave as I neared Tucson, but when I turned on Valencia Road I got into more intense storms from about the airport to home. Crazy As# lightning and flooded streets during rush hour! :y: About 1.6 inches of rain at my house from this bomber. Streets in my neighborhood were running like washes (probably because that is what they were before being paved :lol: ). Good stuff!
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